St James fishermen brace for hurricane-related threats

MONTEGO BAY, St James —0 With plans in place to ensure both their personal safety and that of their equipment, fisherfolk at the River Bay Fishing Village in this western parish are bracing for threats that may come this 2023 Atlantic hurricane season.

Last year’s hurricane season produced 14 named storms, eight of which became hurricanes with winds of 119 km/h (74 mp/h) or greater; while two — Fiona and Ian — intensified to major hurricanes.

Jason Johnson, a fisherman and diver at the fishing village, told the Jamaica Observer that measures were established which come into effect each year around this time. He detailed that in their efforts to prevent injuries or possibly deaths, the fisherfolk operating from that location lessen their time out at sea.

“We always draw up the boats and tie them down to keep them safe or we pull them onto land and tie them to the trees here. But when the hurricane season comes, there is nothing that we can do to keep on making money unless you catch a portion of fish and store them up in the fridge. We cannot go to sea and sometimes the water is still dirty when the storms pass, so we cannot see the fish pots,” the fisherman told the Sunday Observer.

A trough across the western Caribbean, including Jamaica, influenced weather conditions across the island last week, causing periods of isolated showers and thunderstorms across sections of this parish. The weather conditions, which eased the fisherfolk into the start of the hurricane season on June 1, saw Johnson and others at the River Bay Fishing Village remaining on land for the majority of the week.

However, Johnson stated that the increase in rainfall isn’t the main concern for fisherfolk, as some still chose to go fishing despite the weather. He told the Sunday Observer that they are mostly worried about the other intense climatic conditions which come during the annual hurricane season.

“The rain is not the problem – the sea being rough is our problem. We can be out there in the rain catching fish and we are safe, but when the wave rises to a level and the boats cannot go on the water then we have a problem,” Johnson said.

“Sometimes the waves bring in some crab and fish from other places like the Dogtooth Snapper, so we’re happy about that. But we are afraid of the wind more than the rain, to be honest because when we have a heavy breeze, the waves rise and we cannot go out at that time. The rain is fine because when you’re under the water you don’t even know that it is raining,” he added.

Desmond Popkin, another fisherman at the River Bay Fishing Village, further told the Sunday Observer that the hurricane season is viewed as “almost disastrous” because he loses a lot of fish due to his inability to go fishing.

“We use divers to dive and set the traps, so because of the dirty water we cannot go to sea whenever it rains like this,” Popkin said.

At the same time, the fisherman noted that after 40 years of going to sea, he has become acclimatised to the hurricane season and sometimes looks forward to the fish he catches after heavy rainfall. This intense climate, he said, may see “better quality fish” being placed on the plates of many Jamaicans, as the rainfall forces different types of fish into their fish nets.

“It is nature and we have to work with it as fishermen because sometimes the rough sea brings a lot of fish as well. Sometimes we even get better quality fish because fish move and we get some snapper or yellowtail, so we get nice fish after the rough weather,” he said.

But the past week did not yield that result, Popkin also told the Sunday Observer.

“I went to sea once this week to draw some fish drops. They are close by and we put ropes on them, so they were easy to reach. We have some others that we tied down so the divers have to go for those, but the water is dirty right now because the river ran out into the sea,” the fisherman said.

In the meantime, fisherman Errol Campbell has been utilising the time to strengthen and build additional fishing pots due to the current state of the seawater after the recent heavy rainfall.

“Right now we can’t manage out at sea because the water is dirty, so we can’t access or retrieve the fishing pots that we have out there. All we can do is stay on land and build fish pots like I am doing right now,” he told the Sunday Observer during a recent visit to the River Bay Fishing Village.

While reiterating what his colleagues said regarding the safety measure employed by those fisherfolk, Campbell stated that they have had to become innovative by adding ropes to their fishing pots to save them during heavy rainfall. However, he quickly added that that was not without its fair share of difficulties.

“So if the water is dirty, then we can just pull them up, but when it’s time to put them back it’s hard to set them back properly. Like how it rains, the water is dirty right now. We went out there but had to come back because we nuh find anything since we can’t see the bottom of the water,” Campbell bemoaned.

The fisherman is hoping that assistance will come the way of his colleagues and himself through the Government, in the case of a hurricane or tropical storm during the season.

“We have our shelter already, so the Government can only help us after the hurricane blows off by donating some wire and other fishing equipment to us. That will help us to build back what we lose,” Campbell said.